Ouch. Day Four was by far the hardest day, but with a bit of mental wrestling, I made it through. At 11pm last night, though, I wasn’t far off buying a pack.
Four days into quitting smoking and some little changes are beginning to reveal themselves. Firstly, sleep – I don’t need it. The last three nights I’ve been in bed by 11ish, and awake, wide awake, at 3 or 4am – bright, sprightly and rearing to go. Yesterday, I reared so hard that I was up running at 5am, just so I could be doing something that didn’t involve lying down, reading, watching terrible morning television or pacing my apartment.
My lungs thanked me heartily for 45 minutes after that. If, by thanking heartily, I mean coughed and spluttered everywhere.
When I was a teenager, just beginning my nicotine craze, my favourite novel was Perfume by Patrick Suskind. It tells the story of Grenouille, the boy born without scent but with the world’s most powerful nose and his hunt for salvation and acceptance through acquiring the most perfect elegant scent the world had ever known existed. I loved the way Suskind opened our eyes to the nasal world. It challenged my perception of how I interacted with my environment.
When you quit smoking, nobody tells you about the effect of smell. Everybody knows smoking screws with your sense of smell, but what nobody tells you is that the world smells like shit. At least that’s the first elements noticed when smell returns. I was expecting a barrage of lady perfumes, of flowers, of restaurants cooking warm cakes, pasta, curries. Instead, walking down the street hits me with the odour of bins – that warm, pungent aroma that exists in a metre radius around each open street bin – and the enveloping and crushing stink of the ‘I smoke 6 packs of cigarettes a day’ cat who decides to sit next to me on the tram.
But the worst moment was when ‘6 pack a day smoker’ decided to be a gentleman and rise to allow a near 103 year old man to sit. A face like burning pork, all pustules and blotches, with a nose and ears that seemed to have never ceased invading their nearby proximities, he was a character to stare at. He carried this strange, half doctors bag like those from the 1920s, and wore his hat with the pride of someone who had fought in World War 2. But, while I could have dissected his caricature for hours, all that hit me as he sat, was the stench of old man – old stale piss mixed with mothballs and rotting newspapers. It pulsed at me, wafting over me with every jerk and jolt of the tram. For the first moment, I missed how nicotine had hidden the misery of scent from my life.
I take solace in lifting up my forearm to my nose and inhaling deeply though, because yesterday, I also discovered the scent of skin. My own skin, warm and full, smelled more alive than anything I had ever inhaled before. And as I passed another bin-filled alley shimmering in the fetor of decay, I raised my arm and inhaled deeply of the scent of life I’d failed to ever notice.